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DES Daughters Face Serious Long-Term Health Risks

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Diethylstilbestrol—commonly known as DES—is a synthetic estrogen developed to supplement a woman’s natural estrogen production, for instance to prevent miscarriages and premature births. DES was first prescribed in 1938 and was widely used from the 1940s through the 1960s. Among other dangerous side effects, the drug has rendered DES Daughters—women whose mothers took DES—susceptible to a rare uterine cancer. A recent New England Journal of Medicine report, dated October 6, has sparked renewed interest into the matter and is bringing attention to the long-term complications faced by DES Daughters, said NewsWise. DES, long known to adversely impact reproductive tissues, also impacts the immune system, another known estrogenic target, said NewsWise. According to Dr. S. Ansar Ahmed, professor of immunology at Virginia Tech, “We decided to look at how giving DES to mothers changes the immune system after birth…. Exposure to hormones such as DES can create a different environment for the fetal immune system. This is a very sensitive time in the ‘education’ of the immune system.” Dr. Ahmed pointed out that, “Exposure of the fetus to DES during this sensitive time can interfere with this ‘education’ of the immune system,” wrote NewsWise. In the 1990s, Dr. Ahmend led a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study concerning how DES in utero exposure affects the immune system later in life, noted NewsWise. Dr. Ahmed’s research indicates that an array of disorders linked to DES exposure before birth manifest with symptoms

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not only after puberty, but after maturity, as well, said NewsWise. Because of this, Dr. Ahmed and his team believe that people exposed to DES before birth could have “deviant or more sensitive” responses to their sex hormones at maturity, noted NewsWise. The report in the New England Journal of Medicine found that DES Daughters have much higher rates of reproductive problems such as infertility, miscarriage, and premature births, said NewsWise. After a 1971 study revealed that DES resulted in a rare vaginal tumor in females of all ages who were exposed to the chemical, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the drug’s use in pregnant women, reported NewsWise. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women prescribed DES during pregnancy have a moderate increased risk for breast cancer. Women exposed to DES while in utero, are at an increased risk for clear cell adenocarcinoma (CCA), a rare vaginal and cervical cancer. DES Daughters are also at risk for reproductive tract structural differences, such as T-shaped uterus, said the CDC and pregnancy complications, such as ectopic (tubal) pregnancy and pre-term (early) delivery. Infertility is another known risk factor. In DES Sons, there is an increased risk for non-cancerous epididymal cysts–growths on the testicles. Between 5 and 10 million people were exposed to DES from 1938 through 1971, the CDC noted; over 2 million women in the United States were exposed to DES before birth. Over three decades of research into DES confirm that health risks are associated with DES exposure.

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